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100 Years of Insulin: What Patients With Diabetes Need to Know

mhong84, iStock / Getty Images Plus.
mhong84, iStock / Getty Images Plus.

The University of Kentucky Public Relations and Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week's column is by Laura Hieronymus, a doctor of nursing practice, master licensed diabetes educator, and the associate director of education and quality services at the Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 6, 2021) This year marks a century since the discovery of insulin. Drs. Fredrick Banting and Charles Best discovered the lifesaving medicine in 1921, changing the diabetes diagnosis from a death sentence to a manageable lifestyle. Insulin is credited with saving millions of people and is considered one of the greatest medical achievements of all time. Today, scientists continue to make great strides in diabetes research. There are ongoing efforts to make advancements in diagnosing and treating diabetes, as well as finding a cure for the disease.

People with Type 1 diabetes rely on insulin to keep their blood glucose at a healthy level. Those with Type 2 diabetes may eventually require insulin due to declining insulin production. There are a number of different types of insulin, so it is important to stay “in the know.”

Five Things to Know About Your insulin

  1. Name of your insulin:
    • Always check the label to be sure you are using the insulin that your provider prescribed for you.
    • Know both the generic names and brand names of your insulin (sometimes a generic name may have more than one trade name).This will help you make sure that you are using the correct insulin.
  1. Insulin concentration:
    • Know the concentration, or the strength, of your insulin; if the concentration is incorrect, you may not receive the right dose.
    • The most common concentration is U-100. However, other higher than U-100 concentrations such as U-200, U-300, and U-500 are also available.
    • If you are prescribed a lower concentration of insulin and use a higher concentration, you may get 2-5 times the insulin you need, which would seriously increase your risk for hypoglycemia (low blood glucose). On the other hand, if you are prescribed a higher concentration of insulin and use a lower concentration, your risk for hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) will increase.
  1. Color and appearance:
    • Most insulins will look clear and colorless. If your clear insulin is NOT clear, throw it away.
    • Some insulins, such as premixed insulins, will look cloudy. These insulins contain added substances called buffers that make them work over a longer time. When these types of insulin sit for even just a few minutes, the buffers settle to the bottom of the vial. Gently roll the insulin pen between your hands to mix the insulin before injecting. If your cloudy insulin will not mix, throw it away.  
  2. Insulin dose:
    • Know your dose. Taking too much insulin can increase your risk for hypoglycemia, and too little insulin can increase your risk for hyperglycemia.
    • Monitoring your glucose levels will help you and your health care provider determine which dose is best for you.  
  3. Timing of injections:
    • You should be aware of when you are supposed to use your insulin. Be sure you know how often and at what time of day you should use your insulin.

Finally, be sure to ALWAYS review the details and instructions in the medication guide that comes with your insulin prescription. Starting insulin can be overwhelming. Reach out to your provider, pharmacist and/or diabetes care and education specialist for guidance.

Diabetes education is considered such an important part of your diabetes care that medical treatment without it is considered inadequate. To learn more about diabetes education and healthy behaviors such as proper use of insulin, contact Barnstable Brown Diabetes Education Services at 859-323-7391 or

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